Hergé’s Tintin cartoon adventures have been translated into more than fifty languages and read by tens of millions of children aged, as their publishers like to say, “from 7 to 77.” Arguing that their characters are as strong and their plots as complex as any dreamed up by the great novelists, Tom McCarthy asks a simple question: is Tintin literature?
McCarthy takes a cue from Tintin himself, who spends much of his time tracking down illicit radio signals, entering crypts, and decoding puzzles and suggests that we too need to ‘tune in’ and decode if we want to capture what’s going on in Hergé’s work. What emerges is a remarkable story of illegitimacy and deceit, in both Hergé’s work and his own family history. McCarthy shows how the themes this story generates—expulsion from home, violation of the sacred, the host-guest relationship turned sour, and anxieties around questions of forgery and fakeness—are the same that have fuelled and troubled writers from the classical era to the present day.
McCarthy offers an exceptional, and very up-close, reading of Hergé’s texts, characters, and plots, finding that they conceal layer after layer of coded messages and signifiers, of thicknesses and densities, of crosscurrents, hidden meanings, and sublimated desires. Here is a fascinating, and sometimes disturbing work of deconstruction—one section is entitled “Castafiore’s Clit,” referring to the opera singer Mme Castafiore, whose voice can, as McCarthy puts it, “blow away all other discourse,” and seeing Captain Haddock’s broken pipe as an emasculation.
His provocative conclusion is that Tintin’s ultimate ‘secret’ is that of literature itself—as such Tintin and the Secret of Literature should be avidly consumed by not only Tintin lovers but also by anyone with an interest in literature, philosophy, or art.